The Distortion of Sound is a documentary about the decline of sound quality and how technology has changed the way we listen to music. It will open your ears and inspire you to reach for richer, more soul-stirring musical experiences.
Lenny Kaye, Patti Smith’s guitarist, explains how the quest for new guitar sounds has driven the history of popular music, from Les Paul’s first guitar to Bo Diddley’s tremolo, Duane Eddy’s whammy bar, Keith Richards’s fuzz pedal, The Who’s feedback, The Byrds’ 12-string, Hendrix’s wah-wah pedal, Uli Roth and Van Halen’s shredding, The Edge’s digital delay, Ry Cooder’s slide, and KT Tunstall and Ed Sheeran’s looper pedals. With Duane Eddy, Roger McGuinn, The Edge, Bonnie Raitt, Seasick Steve, KT Tunstall, Joe Bonamassa, Uli Roth, Vernon Reid, Heart’s Nancy Wilson, The Runaways’ Lita Ford and producer Shel Talmy.
The composer examines the middle to late 19th century, exploring the European craze for opera and music that dealt with death and destiny. He suggests that composers were inspired by Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique to write about witches, ghouls, trolls and hellish torment, and that the death of the heroine in Verdi's La Traviata was a comment on the hypocrisies of wider society. Howard also argues that the image of the composer as a misunderstood genius was cemented in the public imagination during this period.
The composer examines the history and development of music, beginning by looking back at the first faltering steps humanity took toward creating it. He considers archaeological evidence showing that music was as important in the late Stone Age as it is now and charts how Gregorian chant started with a handful of monks singing the same tune in unison. Over the course of several centuries, medieval musicians painstakingly put together the basics of what has become termed harmony and then added rhythm - the building blocks of the music the world enjoys today
Stewart Copeland explores the drums as the founding instrument of popular modern music. Beats that travelled from Africa via New Orleans and across the world are the consistent force behind musical evolution. Stewart plays with some of the most inspiring drummers of the last 50 years, including John Densmore of The Doors, Chad Smith of The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Prince’s musical director Sheila E, New Order’s Stephen Morris and Foo Fighters’ Taylor Hawkins. He goes dancing in New Orleans, builds his own bass drum pedal and checks out hot new bands on Santa Monica beach.
The composer examines the history of the past 100 years in music, known as the popular age. During this period, classical music - as it is now termed - seemed to be in decline, but Howard argues that while some cutting-edge works proved too challenging to be appreciated by the mainstream audience, the DNA of the genre is alive and well in musical theatre, cinema and popular music.
Part one, Sweet Little Sixteen, focuses on the origins of the sound in 1950s America - a rhythm-driven mix of blues, boogie woogie and vocal harmony championed by young music pioneers such as Fats Domino and Little Richard, which was nurtured by small independent record labels and, pre-Civil Rights Act, drew young white and black kids together. This episode also discusses the start of Elvis Presley's career as a local singer in Memphis and examines the impact the film industry had on the movement. In particular, bad boy heartthrob Marlon Brando's iconic performance in 1953's The Wild One as the biker that ignited a rebellious spirit and style in teens across America, and 1955's Blackboard Jungle, which featured Bill Haley & His Comets' Rock Around The Clock, which went on to become the first rock 'n' roll number one and an anthem for the country's disaffected youth.